The Propella Mini Is a Rethink of What an E-Bike in the City Should Be

It's light, it's solid, and it's affordable.

Propella mini e-bike


We start every post on e-bikes with the note that three things are needed for the e-bike revolution: good affordable bikes, safe places to ride, and secure places to park. So I am always excited when a new affordable e-bike comes along like the new Propella Mini e-bike that sells for $999. There are different ways one can build a cheaper e-bike: You can skimp on the quality of the components, or as we at Treehugger often say, just strip away the non-essential elements and use less of everything. I'm thinking of German industrial designer Dieter Rams' 10th principle of good design:

"Good design is as little design as possible. Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity."
Propella frame dimensions


The Propella Mini certainly is simple. It is single-speed, getting rid of the gears that add weight and complexity. It has smaller than usual 20-inch wheels and a smaller aluminum frame, which makes it very light for an e-bike at 33 pounds. It is a class 1 e-bike, which means it has a top speed of 18 mph and no throttle. The Bafang 250 watt rear hub motor has a peak of 400 watts, and the 250 watt-hour battery will push it between 20 miles and 35 miles, depending on how much effort you put into it, and five levels of pedal assist on its LC-display. It has solid Shimano disc brakes and all well-known name-brand parts. Anything else, like lights or a carrier, you will have to add yourself.

Andrea Learned on Propella
Andrea Learned on a Propella bike.

Andrea Learned

Propella offered to send me a bike to test, but it's winter as I write this and the streets are full of snow—I did not think I could give it a good evaluation. I also thought it should be given a good ride in a city with a lot of hills, which riders on single-speed bikes often have trouble with. I asked Andrea Learned, a bike activist, consultant, and podcaster (listen to her interview me about e-bikes here), to run it around hilly Seattle for a few days.

bike on hedge

Andrea Learned

Learned normally rides a Trek with eight gears and described herself as a "seasoned rider" so it took her a little bit of time to get used to it. My first question was about how she coped with the single speed and Seattle's hills. Single-speed bikes are often geared for going fast on flat terrain, and on a hill, you need a big push to start. "I am so used to the other way where I have 8 speeds so I will say that it didn't feel quite enough for me, but the motor was a huge help," said Learned.

The other issue with single speed is when you get going faster, they can feel "spinny" and you are pedaling uncomfortably fast. Learned noticed this because she is used to gears, but she didn't consider it to be a problem.

chain drive and rear wheel

Andrea Learned

Small wheels feel different, much more nimble and agile. Learned noted that when she got on it, it felt "kinda weird" but as she got used to it and was riding and approaching an obstacle like a lamppost, she noted that she really liked how easily it maneuvered.

Learned also noted how she tried riding the bike with the power off and found "it was incredibly light" and "you could run out of power with a few miles to go and just pedal home." This is an issue on my e-bike which is almost twice the weight. This is also a huge plus for people who have to carry their bikes upstairs.

There are quite a few cheap e-bikes around these days, often poorly built with cheap components. From the photos, looking at the welds on the aluminum frame and the components chosen, I thought it looked like a quality machine. Learned said, "It did feel like a quality machine. It's a good bike." I concluded by asking if she would recommend it and got an unequivocal yes.

Propella Battery

Andrea Learned

The Propella Mini is causing me to rethink many of my preconceptions about e-bikes. One of the main reasons I go on about secure places to park is that e-bikes are really expensive. The Propella Mini is still real money, but a lot less than my Gazelle. Pop off the battery and it doesn't look like the most attractive target for a bike thief. They even have a hex nut on the seat post instead of a quick release; it's cheaper, but it is also harder to steal the seat.

Being lightweight probably makes it easier to find a safer place to park; I have often had to drag my Gazelle up a step or two to get it off the sidewalk and it was hard. I know from my days riding a Strida with 16-inch wheels that smaller wheels do give you much more maneuverability—that is useful in the city. Having a motor reduces the need for gears, which reduces complexity, weight, and cost.

When you add it all up—or subtract all those extras that you don't really need—you are left with a light, affordable, maneuverable, durable, and inconspicuous machine that just might be a great all-around urban e-bike.